Fergus teams start strong at Eastern A Divisional
Anna Zimmer, right, hugs Cassi Brown Wednesday morning after the buzzer sounded, making the improbably 15-point comeback a reality. The Fergus Lady Golden Eagles defeated Sidney 56-53 to advance in the Eastern A Divisional Tournament at MetraPark.
Photo by Charlie Denison
Wednesday was a day to remember for Fergus High School Basketball fans, as both the boys and girls came from behind in dramatic fashion to win their respective matches.
Here’s our account of both games.
Golden Eagle Boys beat Hardin Bulldogs in thriller
The Fergus Golden Eagle Boys delivered a stunning upset Wednesday night, shutting down the Hardin Bulldogs at the last minute, winning the game 48-46 to advance in the Eastern A Divisional Boys Basketball Tournament in Billings.
It came down to the wire. With 4.7 seconds left, the Bulldogs had a chance to tie the game or take a one-point lead. Virgil McCormick, their high scorer, drove to the hole, but passed it off to Darnell Left Hand as he drove to the basket.
But the ball didn’t make it to Left Hand. It was loose, and Golden Eagle Jake Clinton grabbed hold as Bulldogs tried to wrestle it out of his hands. Clinton held on. The buzzer sounded, and that’s all she wrote.
Elated, Fergus players and coaching staff rushed the floor, jumping up and down, screaming and hugging, celebrating a big victory.
“This was a huge win,” Golden Eagles Head Coach Scott Sparks said. “The last time we played the Bulldogs it was close, and we lost. This win proves we’ve grown up, and we’re playing our best in February, which is the goal we set out for this year.
This win wasn’t easy, Sparks said, and he didn’t expect it to be, saying he knew McCormick and Left Hand would come out with a lot of intensity to start the contest.
That they did. The Bulldogs started the game off hot, going on an 8-0 run, playing at a faster pace than the Eagles. Fergus tried to get their own run going, but they had trouble shutting down the hungry Bulldog players. Toward the end of the second quarter, the Bulldogs lead rose to 10.
At halftime, the Eagles trailed by eight. Something had to give, and it did, especially from the defensive end, Sparks said.
“I was really impressed with our defensive effort,” Sparks said. “We held Left Hand to 11 points. He usually averages 20. We were also able to shut down McCormick after his hot start. We’re a confident bunch here. We knew we could do it.”
This game was a challenge throughout, but the Eagles would not be denied. After half-time, the Eagles came out of the locker room determined. First, Jaden Graham hit a jumper, then Eric Knox scored five unanswered points. Suddenly, the game was tied, and it was back-and-forth until the end.
Many players stepped up in the game, but it was Tanner Trafton who seized the day when it mattered most, scoring seven points in the fourth quarter, including a key three to put the Eagles up by four with less than two minutes left.
“I saw my parents in the stands and I dug deep,” Trafton said. “I felt inspired.”
Trafton finished the game with a team-high 12 points, shooting 3-6 from the field. He also added a team-high nine rebounds. Andrew Lalum scored 12 and Knox had nine in the contest.
McCormick led all scorers with 18 points.
By winning this thriller Wednesday night, Fergus advanced to play the Belgrade Panthers Friday evening.
Lady Eagles come from behind, defeat Sidney in first divisional match
The Golden Eagle Girls overcame a 15-point deficit Thursday, defeating the Sidney Lady Eagles 56-53 in game 1 of the Eastern A Divisional Tournament at MetraPark in Billings, giving them the opportunity to advance.
At first, it looked like a rough morning was in store for Fergus, as Sidney came out on fire, getting off to a quick 6-0 lead. Bree Fischer, Madison Thiessen and Madison DiFonzo were factors, but it was Logan Peterson who led this balanced attack, setting up her teammates and shutting down Fergus with her high defensive IQ.
By the end of the first, Sidney had an eight-point lead, which quickly increased to 12 in the second after some costly turnovers by Fergus and consistent shooting efficiency by Peterson and DiFonzo.
An open three by Peterson put Sidney up by 15 near the end of the second. That’s when Fergus really knew they were in trouble.
“Intensity! Let’s do this,” a Golden Eagle fan yelled from the crowd.
Fergus would not be denied.
Facing a 12-point deficit at the half, interim head coach Jeff Elliot said he was confident his players could come through, and he helped the players find that confidence in themselves by giving them an ambitious goal.
And the girls responded, going on a 17-5 run in the quarter.
“I told the girls I wanted to be within six by the four-minute mark and tied going into the fourth quarter,” Elliot said. “We were down by one at the end of the third, and I pretended to be mad, joking with them that they didn’t do what I asked.”
Entering the fourth, it was anybody’s game. In the final eight minutes, both teams were aggressive, pushing each other, diving for loose balls and not allowing any easy baskets.
Fergus started the quarter cold. Sidney, however, started finding their groove again, as Peterson hit a big three to give her team a four-point edge, 44-40.
With two and a half minutes left, Sidney’s lead got up to five again, but it didn’t last long, as Hanna Hayes and Haydn Potter took over, driving to the basket, making their free throws and keeping the team in the game both offensively and defensively. Using full-court press, Fergus shut down Sidney’s offense and caused a series of costly turnovers down the stretch, ultimately leading to their victory.
“It wasn’t pretty, but we’ll take it,” Elliot said.
Fergus crawled back into the game and got some breaks on offense. Surrounded by Sidney players, Potter somehow got a lay-in to fall with 55 seconds left, giving Fergus their first lead of the game.
They wouldn’t trail again. Their defense would not allow Sidney to get good looks from the field, trapping players forcing turnovers (Sidney turned the ball over a total of 23 times).
On offense, Fergus stayed cool under pressure, making key free throws down the stretch. Free throws played a large part in the victory. Fergus made 23 out of 29 (79 percent) while Sidney was limited to only eight free throws in the contest, making five of them (63 percent).
Hayes was the hero, scoring a game-high 23 points, 10 of which came from the free throw line (10-for-10, an impressive feat, especially in a game with high stakes). Haydn Potter also had a big day from the line, making 9 of 12. Potter scored 13 points in the contest. Zimmer added nine. Peterson led Sidney with 20, DiFonzo had 13 and Thiessen contributed 12.
The Lady Golden Eagles went on to play the Dawson County Lady Red Devils Friday morning, losing the hard-fought match 38-32.